Bruno Kaufmann and Joe Mathews in the Washington Post: “The new conventional wisdom seems to be that electoral democracy is in decline. But this ignores another widespread trend: direct democracy at the local and regional level is booming, even as disillusion with representative government at the national level grows.
Today, 113 of the world’s 117 democratic countries offer their citizens legally or constitutionally established rights to bring forward a citizens’ initiative, referendum or both. And since 1980, roughly 80 percent of countries worldwide have had at least one nationwide referendum or popular vote on a legislative or constitutional issue.
Of all the nationwide popular votes in the history of the world, more than half have taken place in the past 30 years. As of May 2018, almost 2,000 nationwide popular votes on substantive issues have taken place, with 1,059 in Europe, 191 in Africa, 189 in Asia, 181 in the Americas and 115 in Oceania, based on our research.
That is just at the national level. Other major democracies — Germany, the United States and India — do not permit popular votes on substantive issues nationally but support robust direct democracy at the local and regional levels. The number of local votes on issues has so far defied all attempts to count them — they run into the tens of thousands.
This robust democratization, at least when it comes to direct legislation, provides a context that’s generally missing when doomsday prophets suggest that democracy is dying by pointing to authoritarian-leaning leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Indeed, the two trends — the rise of populist authoritarianism in some nations and the rise of local and direct democracy in some areas — are related. Frustration is growing with democratic systems at national levels, and yes, some people become more attracted to populism. But some of that frustration is channeled into positive energy — into making local democracy more democratic and direct.
Cities from Seoul to San Francisco are hungry for new and innovative tools that bring citizens into processes of deliberation that allow the people themselves to make decisions and feel invested in government actions. We’ve seen local governments embrace participatory budgeting, participatory planning, citizens’ juries and a host of experimental digital tools in service of that desired mix of greater public deliberation and more direct public action….(More).”